I’ve been wondering tonight what would be a good coping strategy for a small business owner with autism in his dealings with employees?
I was listening to him earlier. He said, “I have discovered that a lot of the poor I hire are useless. It costs me minimum wage plus overhead to employ them. But many of them are incapable of doing anything worth that much money.”
I used to employ people, so I know that some employees don’t give back good value for what you pay them. I might even grant to the guy that the poor are often unskilled or low skilled workers. Some not only lack skills but have bad work habits, such as showing up late, wasting time, and so forth. And maybe it’s even true that — as a group — the poor have worse work habits than typically more skilled workers. But even if I grant him all that, I don’t think it’s the whole picture.
Some years ago, I was employed by a company to provide consulting services mainly to call centers. This was before all the call centers got shipped offshore to India and the Philippines. I hear in those countries, call centers often employ skilled college graduates and pay well by local standards. Whether that’s true or not, most of the call centers I consulted for in America employed the working poor and sometimes paid no more than minimum wages.
I can only speak from my own experience (as did the small business owner himself ) but it was my impression that most problems the call centers got themselves into — including such “employee problems” as low productivity — were in one way or another caused by poor management or poor supervision, and could only be solved if the managers wanted to solve them.
In the time I held that job, which was only a few years, I ran across one — and only one — call center where the bulk of the problems could be fairly assigned to the employees. One of the employees had managed to set herself up as a ring leader for the other employees, and she was extraordinarily hostile to any authority but her own. She was also so clever about concealing her activities that the supervisors didn’t know what was going on. But she had even gotten her group to limit themselves to a quota for daily sales which she had set far beneath the group’s potential. After the call center let her go, sales more than doubled.
That was the one case I came across where the fault for poor productivity lay squarely with an employee and those who followed her. I don’t doubt there are many such cases, but I doubt they are more numerous than the cases of poor supervision or management.
Indeed, most of the problems I encountered could be attributed to poor supervision or management. I recall that “hidden and competing objectives” were a frequent problem. Perhaps, you had a supervisor who was a control freak and tried to micromanaged every minute of the operation. In which case, the real objective of the call center was to indulge someone’s ego.
Sometimes the problem was poor training — of the supervisors and managers. Many managers didn’t know the importance of buying the best available lists of who to call. Or they didn’t know how to structure a script for their callers, nor what words to pack it with, nor how to test its effectiveness. Or they didn’t know how to solve common employee problems.
I once knew some of the figures by which I had increased productivity in the calling operations I consulted with. I used to be so proud of those numbers that I had a half dozen of them memorized for years. But today they escape me. Nevertheless, I recall they were nothing to be embarrassed by. Yet, every increase in productivity I got — save one — involved in some way or another first improving the performance of the supervisors or managers.
Now, my experience is admittedly limited, but it suggests to me, if to no one else, that how you supervise people and manage their work plays a decisive role in how productive they become. If someone thinks his workers are useless, then all I can say is that, in my experience, useless workers can often be turned around by improving the skills of their supervisors and managers.
Which brings me home to the small business owner. He has told me that he is severely autistic. From what little I know about autism, I think that might present a problem with supervising people. If so, I wonder what he can do about it?
Is there a good coping strategy for him? A way he can manage his autism to deal more effectively with his employees? I would kind of like to suggest something to him — both for his sake and the sake of the people he employs.